Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Social Determinants of Health Indicators Make It To Healthy People 2020

Last week, I attended a lecture from a national leader in public health who, when asked about the most powerful strategy to address the root causes of poor population health, suggested investment in early childhood education.  This expert’s advice speaks to what the evidence tells us about the impact of education on longer life expectancy, improved health, greater quality of life, and more health-promoting behaviors.  But this thinking confirms what community members have long known, that where we live, work, learn, and play dramatically impacts our health. 

Our city-wide policy agenda, Healthy Baltimore 2015 incorporates the “social determinants of health” with other leading indicators prioritized based on where we can have the greatest impact on morbidity and mortality, and improve the quality of life for city residents.  But, of course, our community health improvement efforts exist within a larger state and federal context. For that reason, I was thrilled to see that our thinking in Baltimore is consistent with the 12 national priority indicators of health, announced yesterday by the Department of Health and Human Services.    

Like Healthy Baltimore 2015’s 10 priority areas, the 12 national priorities include a focus on the root causes of poor health in addition to traditional public health and health care access indicators.  Both sets of priorities include an intention focus on identifying and reducing health inequities.  Also similar, the national priority areas incorporate what we know about critical points across the life cycle where interventions are likely to have the greatest impact on health outcomes.   One major difference between the national and local priority areas is that in Baltimore, we emphasize the importance of place.  For example, priority area 10 focuses on the need to “create health promoting neighborhoods” with a specific focus on liquor outlet density and vacant housing which are both significant concerns for many of our neighborhoods.

It is an exciting time to work in public health, with alignment between the national Healthy People 2020 initiative, Maryland’s State Health Improvement Plan, and Healthy Baltimore 2015.  I believe we have an unprecedented opportunity to improve health in our city as a whole and reduce long standing health inequities. I encourage you to check out the 10 national priority areas as well as the Healthy Baltimore 2015 priority areas and to join with us in this city wide effort to improve population health.